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Rajaraja Chola I: Conqueror, temple builder and one of the greatest emperors of India

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Rajaraja Chola I was a Chola emperor who ruled present day south India between 985 and 1014 AD.

On Wednesday, the southern state of Tamil Nadu is celebrating the 1,034th Sathaya Vizha marking the birth anniversary of one of the greatest emperors of the country – King Rajaraja Chola.

Rajaraja Chola-I, who was born as Arulmozhi Varman, is also known as Arunmozhi Udayar and respectfully as Periya Udayar. Rajaraja Chola is credited for ending the 30 year period of the stalemate of the Chola dynasty. As an able king, Rajaraja Chola ruled for the period of next 20 years, achieving so many victories that when he died in 1014 AD, he was beyond dispute the lord paramount of Southern India.

The territory of Rajaraja Chola- I included modern day’s Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Sri Lanka and parts of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

The conquests of Rajaraja Chola

In the first 8 years of his reign, Rajaraja Chola-I consolidated and augmented his army. Since ages, the Pandyas, Cheras and Sinhala were against the Cholas. The first attack was on Chera King Bhaskara Ravi Varman Thiruvadi and in this campaign in Kerala, Rajaraja I destroyed a fleet in the port of Kandalur. However, some history records say that the port was under Pandyas. This conquest led him to assume the title “Mummudi Chola” which meant the wearer of three crowns Chera, Chola and Pandya.

In 991 AD, a king named Mahinda V of Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) mutinied against him and fled to take refuge in the Southern region of the Island. Rajaraja I, who was waiting for such an opportunity to attack Sri Lanka, raided the island in 993 AD. The army of Rajraja I crossed the ocean by ships, burnt Sri Lanka and destroyed Anuradhapura, the capital of the Sinhala kings of Sri Lanka. Rajaraja could win half of the northern island of Sri Lanka and his son Rajendra Chola-I won rest of the territories in the island.

In 998-999 AD, Rajaraja Chola captured parts of modern Karnataka from the Ganga Kings. By the turn of the millennium, the Western Chalukyan dynasty had risen to prominent power in North of Cholas. Rajaraja I was victorious against the Western Chalukyan King Satyasraya. When the war with the Western Chalukyas concluded the Tungabhadra river became the northern frontier of the Chola Kingdom. He conquered Vengi and subsequently Kalinga. Raja Raja Chola is also said to have captured the Laccadive Islands and Maldives Islands.

Raja Raja Chola – A champion of Art and Culture

In 1010, Raja Raja built the grand Brihadisvara Temple, also called Rajarajesvaram temple, in Thanjavur dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple and the capital acted as a centre of both religious and economic activity. It is one of the largest temples in India and is an example of Dravidian architecture during the Chola period. The temple turned 1000 years old in 2010. It is also known as Peruvudaiyar Kovil.

The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Great Living Chola Temples”, with the other two being the Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara temple.

The temple was built by him on a command given by Lord Shiva in his dream. The temple is a testimony to the Chola power and wealth at the time of Rajaraja Chola I. The stories of Rajaraja Chola’s conquest have been engraved on the walls of this temple.

Rajaraja Chola embarked on a mission to recover the hymns after hearing short excerpts of Thevaram in his court. He sought the help of Nambiyandar Nambi. Rajaraja thus became to be known as ‘Tirumurai Kanda Cholan’ meaning one who saved the Tirumurai. Till Rajaraja Chola, Shiva temples only had images of god forms, but after the advent of Rajaraja, the images of the Nayanar saints were also placed inside the temple.

Rajaraja through Nambi arranged the hymns written by three saint poets Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar and ensured that these were sung in all the temples and provided for the upkeep of this service, a tradition which is continued till date. This is perhaps the greatest service to Hinduism and Tamil by Rajaraja Chola-I.

Rajaraja Chola is also credited for being a great temple builder. He also built Tiruvalisvaram temple at Brahmadesam in Tamil Nadu, Uttarakailash at Tiruvadi, Vaidyanath temple at Tirumalavadi, Tamil Nadu.

Though Rajaraja was an ardent devotee of Shiva, he remained a truly secular king. He and his family donated lavishly to build Vinnagarams – Vishnu temples. When the Srivijaya king of present Indonesia approached Rajaraja to help him in constructing a Buddha Vihara, he had donated an entire village, Anaimangalam near Nagappattinam for the purpose and for the upkeep of the Chudamani Vihara in Nagappattinam.

References: 1. Indian History, Cholas by Krishna Reddy

2. Tamil Nadu School Board textbooks


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